Claim:   A crafty workman ensures he will be paid for his work by boobytrapping the job.


Example:   [Brunvand, 1999]

A mason builds a new fireplace for a wealthy man. When the mason finishes the job, he asks for his money, but the wealthy client says he can’t pay just now. He doesn’t have the right change. That’s all right, the mason says. But if he has to wait, then the client does too. The wealthy man agrees. He won’t build a fire in his new chimney until he’s paid the mason. The mason goes home. Just an hour or so later, his wealthy client appears at the door. “My house is full of smoke, goddammit!”

“I told you not to use that chimney until you paid me,” says the mason. “When you pay me, I’ll fix it.”

So the client gets out his wallet, which is full of change after all, and the mason returns to the rich man’s house. The mason brings a brick with him. He carries the brick up a ladder to the roof and drops it down the chimney, smashing out the pane of glass he had mortared across the flue.


Origins:   How

Cartoon of the legend

long this story has been around is anyone’s guess. Some date it as far back as the 1930s or 1940s. It’s still in vogue, though — in 1994 a caller to a Los Angeles radio show told this legend on the air.

One long-standing complaint about workmen is that once they’ve been paid, they lose interest in finishing the job at hand. Not only is this stereotype unfair, but it also disguises the fact that the reverse can be true: workmen also sometimes have difficulty collecting money due to them from customers who lose interest in paying once the job is complete. Though we’d like to believe the scenario described here did play out in real life, it’s more likely a case of wishful thinking fashioned into a story — one which celebrates the blue-collar guy who was smart enough to retain the upper hand. The homeowner is usually described as well-to-do, and his reluctance to pay is never based upon a dispute over the quality of the work or the completeness of the job. We therefore cheer for the clever workman who finds an inventive way to force timely payment of what’s owed him.

Barbara “work of artful” Mikkelson

Last updated:   20 April 2011


    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (p. 260).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Too Good To Be True.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (pp. 277-278).

Also told in:

The Big Book of Urban Legends

    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 182).